TU Berlin

Center for Cultural Studies on Science and Technology in ChinaHUANG Fei: Environment, Body and Medicine: Water in Everyday Practice of the Southwest China (1600–1900)


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Environment, Body and Medicine: Water in Everyday Practice of the Southwest China (1600–1900)

This paper is the preliminary stage of my on-going project “Hot Spring, Public Bathing and Urban Environment in Modern China”. In this paper I will mainly investigates the development of the interaction between the environment and the frontier society from the perspective of water landscapes, springs in particular, in early modern southwest China (1600–1900). Springs serves as an excellent example to elaborate on the relation of the environment and local society for its interactive roles with biological and medical systems, physical and spiritual sensibilities, and its representation in art, literature and popular knowledge. In Compendium of Materia Medica (Bencao gangmu), Li Shizhen (1518–1593) classified sour, bitter, salty, cold, and hot springs based on the taste, as well as sulfur, cinnabar, vitriol, realgar, and arsenic springs according to chemical contents. He distributed not only the healing effects of various springs, but also the “poison” water with bad quality that causes chronic and acute diseases. Similar descriptions contained the various knowledge of springs could also be found in encyclopedias, local gazetteers, and travelogues, literatures and other records since sixteenth century. It is directly related to how people defined and maintained the quality of drinking and bathing waters. The knowledge of springs expanded greatly following the incorporation of the southwest into the imperial territory between 1600 and 1900. The empirical observations of springs were also employed and transmitted through vernacular environmental knowledge or common sense by indigenous inhabitants and newcomers alike, which captured the imaginations and perceptions of different classes, ethnicities, genders, of people in the southwest. For example, it was widely believed among the Han Chinese that indigenous women could practice the black magic to manipulate the Han Chinese men by putting poison “gu” in the village’s daily drinking water source springs. This paper focuses on the cultural perceptions and knowledge of springs, to explore multiple environmental and medical experiences during the interaction of Han Chinese and indigenous’ daily life in Chinese frontier.


HUANG Fei was appointed W1 Junior Professor at the Institute of Chinese and Korean Studies of Tübingen University in 2014. She earned her PhD in Chinese Studies at Leiden University in 2012. Her research interests con­centrate on landscape studies, environment history, material culture studies, historical anthropology, art history and cultural geography in late imperial China. Her latest publication is Reshaping the Frontier Landscape: Dong­chuan in Eighteenth-century Southwest China, Leiden: Brill, 2018. She also publishes articles in Late Imperial China, Journal of Asian History.



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